Democracy is dead; Long live democracy! and TICTec

I’ve been getting a lot of love on social media recently. As lovely as it has been, it hasn’t just been a random influx. At the beginning of this month my keynote speaker profile went live on My Society’s website for their 2016 conference in Barcelona at the end of April. I’ve been hearing from a lot of people through Twitter who are attending the conference and are really looking forward to it – and I’m certainly one of them!

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What is TICTec?

TICTec is The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference 2016, and it’s essentially about what it says on the tin – the impacts of civic technologies, and so I was delighted when they asked me to be a keynote speaker. Not only because Barcelona is a truly lovely city, but because it’s giving me another opportunity to talk on an international stage about the huge impacts digital technology can have on people’s lives, and how Tinder Foundation and the UK online centres network are supporting people to realise the huge benefits of digital technology.

I’ll be using my speech at the conference to ask some key questions:

  • Is digital trying to fix outdated modes of democracy?
  • Are people getting increasingly detached from politics and do they feel that democratic structures are impenetrable no matter how much politicians tweet?
  • Is civic tech an amusing pastime of the middle-classes, or can communities co-design a better future for everyone using tech?

Hopefully we’ll be able to figure out some answers as well!

Why TICTec?

For me, attending an event like TICTec is really beneficial. It’s not just the UK that’s becoming increasingly digitised – it’s the whole world. At Tinder Foundation, we’re committed to helping the 12.6 million people in the UK – and the next 3 billion around the world – who don’t have basic digital skills, and our ethos is very much about taking a collaborative approach. I want to spread the digital inclusion message and extend our reach, while ensuring that our models of delivery are co-designed for social challenges, rather than assuming a one-size fits all approach. I’m interested to hear other people’s ideas and learn more about what other people across the globe are up to.

I’m excited to attend TICTec and meet the people there – from My Society and organisations all over the world – so I can be part of the conversation. Together, we can ensure that democratic and civic technology is accessible to everybody in society.

Join me

There will be a huge variety of people attending TICTec, from academic and applied backgrounds, businesses, public authorities, NGOs and educational institutions. There will be presentations, workshops and plenty of networking opportunities. I’d love for you to join me there – all the information about the day and the opportunity to register to attend is available here.

I’m really looking forward to TICTec and can’t wait to meet everyone. See you in Barcelona.

Be Online and swim the ocean

This week saw the start of our Be Online campaign. Taking place over the next two weeks it aims to help people get online and improve their digital skills by encouraging our network of community partners (and anyone else who wants to take part) to host events showing people the mass of benefits that being on the internet can bring.

Yesterday I went to Leeds to see firsthand what some of our partners are up to. My first visit was to a Remploy Centre in Leeds City Centre. They are great at providing disabled job seekers with a range of support, including embedding Learn My Way into the journeys for almost everyone they see. I was impressed by the range of partners they work with too.

Then I jumped on a train to Bramley, a suburb of Leeds, where I met Charlotte Self from Leeds Libraries to visit Molly, an older learner, at home who uses their Libraries@Home service. It was such a treat for me to meet someone for whom it was their first time on the internet. Leeds Libraries are part of our action research digital inclusion programme, and they are taking iPads out to people at home, most of whom are housebound or disabled. Charlotte showed Molly how to search on Google and on YouTube, as well as how to use the Leeds Libraries service to borrow an e-book. Molly was amazed that she could borrow an iPad with a sim card (so she didn’t need to worry about broadband) for no cost from the library. She was delighted about what she found on the internet. And, she was really delighted that she could download an e-book straight away that she will now be able to read.

It was interesting to see that Molly thought that she wasn’t going to be able to do it – using the internet sounded as if it would be hard – but an hour later said she’s keen to at least practice what she did today. Leeds Libraries provide a stylus (or a ‘dabber’ as Charlotte called it) as many new users find their fingers either too heavy or too light or too wobbly; Molly liked to use her ‘dabber’ and her finger.

Molly and Charlotte

Molly with Charlotte Self, exploring the wonders of the internet

Remploy and Leeds Library showed me two very different services that they are providing but their aims are exactly the same: to help people get online and keep getting back online once they’ve learned how, and subsequently use the internet to make their life easier. This is also the sole purpose of our campaign. It’s about helping people to use the internet for the first time and then to keep going and to become confident and independent internet users.

It’s time for the numbers

Last week I attended a meeting with some senior people. Some stats were mentioned about how many people are ‘digitally engaged’ which didn’t ring completely true and, of course, with me being a bit of a stats nerd I decided to do some digging with my research team. We found a lot of really interesting stuff that relates back to the Be Online campaign and why it’s so important.

Looking at these stats, there’s the headline stuff such as the amount of adults lacking basic digital skills in the UK (12.6 million), but if you continue down to the stats near the bottom of the list, there’s some real eye-openers. Personally I was pleased to see from Go ON UK’s Basic Digital Skills UK Report 2015 that 98% of under 45 year olds have at least one basic digital skill but it goes down to only 89% of people under 45 who have all five basic digital skills.

It’s encouraging to see that 77% of under 45-year-olds carry out more than 10 different activities online, but disappointing that the remaining 23% don’t. However, the low usage or shallow use of the web, is likely to be by people on low incomes, with 80% of people in social group DE (the semi-skilled or unskilled manual working class or the unemployed) doing 10 or less activities online. In case you’re wondering I do all 17 in Ofcom’s list and my colleagues either do 17 or 16 of the activities.

If you’d like to see them all for yourself, the stats are collated in a table at the bottom of this blog.

So it’s not about looking just at the headline stats, it’s not just about ‘being online’ or not, but it’s what you do with it that matters! And how much variety you do and how confident you are about the variety.

The internet’s an ocean

When we were coming up with names we decided to call it Be Online. It’s short and snappy and it sounds good – but it was also because ‘Be online and do something meaningful and develop your confidence so that you can do it on your own’ is just too long. If we tried to turn that into a hashtag that’d be your whole 140 characters gone in one go.

I thought of this lovely metaphor on my way back from the Be Online events that I think encapsulates the sole purpose of the campaign: we want to help people get into the shallow end of the pool but really our goal is to help people to swim in the ocean. Molly got her feet wet today, metaphorically speaking, and I hope over the weeks, when she’ll get free use of an iPad with sim as well as one-to-one personal support, that her confidence grows and she’s able to explore and develop what she wants and what she needs.

It was a real privilege to meet Molly and to watch the smiles on her face as she discovered a tiny bit of what the internet is about and she discovered that, yes, with a bit more help and support, she will be able to do it.

Check out all the Be Online activity so far on social media by searching for the hashtags #BeOnline16 and #lovelearnmyway, and don’t forget to post your own statuses and pics if you’re taking part in the campaign – I’d love to see them.

And here are the stats

12.6 million adults in GB lack basic digital skills (that’s 23% of all GB adults). The five basic digital skills are: managing information; communicating; transacting; creating; problem solving Go ON UK, Basic Digital Skills UK Report 2015
11.1 million people in the UK have low digital capability. This is an indicator of actual digital behaviours such as: very little evidence of online shopping; no managing money online; no streaming or content. Lloyds Banking Group, Consumer Digital Index, 2016
11% of adults (5.9 million) have never used the internet ONS, Statistical Bulletin: Internet Users, 2015
14% of adults are not recent internet users ONS, Statistical Bulletin: Internet Users2015
14% of adults in the UK are non-users of the internet Ofcom, Adult’s Media Use and Attitudes, 2015
86% of households in Great Britain (22.5 million) have internet connected at home Ofcom, Adult’s Media Use and Attitudes, 2015
51% of adults use a smartphone to go online outside of the home Ofcom, Adult’s Media Use and Attitudes, 2015
67% of adults go online at home and elsewhere; and 17% of internet users (over 15 years) only go online at home Ofcom, Adult’s Media Use and Attitudes, 2015
Smartphones and tablets supplement rather than substitute computer use, with just 6% only using smartphone and tablet devices to go online at home or elsewhere. This rises to 10% among DEs. Ofcom, Adult’s Media Use and Attitudes, 2015
The busiest 7-day period saw 14.4m unique visitors to pages at Gov.UK – this represents approximately 22% of the UK population. Activity on GOV.UK: web traffic
51% individuals interacted online with public authorities within the last 12 months The European Broadband Scorecard Q1, 2015 via Ofcom
98% of under 45 year olds have at least one basic digital skill and 89% have all five basic digital skills Go ON UK, Basic Digital Skills UK Report 2015
98% of under 45 year olds go online anywhere Ofcom, Adult’s Media Use and Attitudes, 2015
23% of under 45 year olds carry out 10 or less types of activities online Ofcom, Adult’s Media Use and Attitudes, 2015
80% of internet users in social group DE carry out 10 or less activities online Ofcom, Adult’s Media Use and Attitudes, 2015

Libraries are for Everyone #libraryletters

Dear everyone,

Libraries are changing … while they’re still the wondrous places that offer a world of learning and access to knowledge that they always have been, in the 21st century they’re now also vanguards at the forefront of a new era of opportunity – the digital era.

The very special thing about public libraries is that they have always been for everyone. Throughout their history, libraries have empowered socially excluded people through offering new opportunities to meet, learn and grow, and they’ve always been a safe, truly free and universal place.

In 2016 there are 12.6 million people in the UK who don’t have basic digital skills; they are missing out on the vast amount of information, education, networks, fulfilment and support that the online world provides. Libraries can make this online world available to everyone equally, no matter their income or background.

Libraries are not simply about books anymore, and they haven’t been for a long time. Nowadays people attend libraries to learn digital skills, as well as to search for jobs, to use Government services which are rapidly moving online, or even to borrow e-books or e-newspapers and magazines. And much, much more than this as well.

Tinder Foundation works with most libraries, and with other local partners in community centres, across England, to help them support local people to be part of our digital society. We are also, specifically, working with 16 libraries, to find new and innovative ways to engage more excluded groups, particularly unemployed people, carers, people on low incomes, housebound, and people with disabilities.

In the future I think libraries will be not just in buildings but all around us, in pubs and cafes, in offices and in bus shelters, wherever the library is found in the future, the library will always be wondrous. The library will always be very everyone.

Best wishes,

Helen Milner

I made Prince Charles laugh yesterday

Yesterday, Prince Charles asked me if older people needed help to use the internet and I asked him if he was angling for a course. He laughed and said something amusing about hacking.

I was at Buckingham Palace to receive my OBE medal. Last June I was thrilled to be awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to digital inclusion, and yesterday I attended my investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace to receive the award from Prince Charles.

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Me and my OBE!

It’s no secret that I feel very strongly about digital inclusion and about ensuring that in this 21st century world – where digital underpins everything – no one is left behind. That’s what I said to Charles too by the way. It feels great to receive such a high-profile award for something that I feel so passionately about and that I just ‘do’ as part of my day-to-day working life. They announced it out loud: “Services to digital inclusion.” I really can’t believe it.


Me and my mum outside Buckingham Palace

Getting to this stage has been a long and fulfilling journey. I’ve dedicated my life to tackling digital exclusion for over thirty years. From providing online resources for children and schools in the 80s, working in online education in Australia and Japan, to helping to set up learndirect in 1999. Setting up Tinder Foundation and the continued development of the UK online centres network have certainly been career highlights for me. Since 2011 Tinder Foundation has grown from a small staff-owned social enterprise to a staff-led charity with a team of almost 50 – and we’re still growing.

I know it sounds cliched to say I couldn’t have done it without the many great people who have been on this journey with me, but it’s true. The whole team at Tinder Foundation is so passionate about digital, they are great people to work with and it is our team effort that deliver the Tinder Foundation successes. And, of course, the UK online centres network who help people every day to make their lives better with digital.

I was at a centre in Dalston just this week, on Tuesday – a million miles in life experiences from Buckingham Palace, but only 5 miles geographically. In Dalston, I was introducing partners from HMRC to local people who are struggling with digital and who are struggling with life, including Keith – 64 and still hoping to find a job. I was as happy to meet Keith on Tuesday as I was to meet Prince Charles yesterday. All part of life’s rich tapestry and I’m so lucky to see it all.

I’ve always believed that everyone is equal. Whether it’s me, my team, the learners in our network, or ministers in government. My work to-date – growing organisations and helping others – embodies this belief. Me and the Tinder Foundation team are absolutely committed to having a better world where everyone benefits through digital. If we can help people have more aspirations and understand their worth, then we’ve done our job well.


The team and the board celebrating our fourth birthday at the AGM, December 2015

I couldn’t have achieved this honour without the Tinder Foundation team, our board, our massive network of community partners across the UK, and every single person who has got online and gained digital skills since we started.


My husband made me a delicious OBE Cake. It was lovely!

I wish I had a slice of cake for all of you. Thank you to everyone sending me congratulations on Twitter – I really appreciate your support. And a big thank you to everyone who has helped me over the years. This award isn’t just for me; it’s for all of you. 

Thank you.